Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression and How to Seek Support


Risk factors for PPD and how to get support

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mental health condition that affects many new mothers after giving birth. With hormones in flux, lack of sleep due to caring for a newborn, and the enormous responsibility that comes with parenthood, it’s not surprising that PPD can be a common occurrence. However, it’s essential to understand the risk factors, recognize the signs, and know where to turn for support to ensure the well-being of both the mother and her loved ones.

PPD is experienced by an estimated 15% of women during postpartum, making it essential to address the topic and break the stigma surrounding it. Through knowledge and understanding, we can help elevate the conversation about postpartum depression, equipping new mothers and families with the resources they need to cope and seek appropriate care.

In this article, I will discuss what postpartum depression is and delve into its various risk factors. Additionally, I will explore the importance of seeking help from mental health professionals specializing in maternal mental health and provide guidance on finding support when faced with PPD symptoms.

Postpartum depression is a form of clinical depression related to pregnancy and childbirth. It is a complex condition with no distinguishable single cause. The symptoms typically begin within the first few weeks after delivery but can appear anytime within the first year of postpartum care. Some common symptoms of PPD include feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, guilt, irritability, and even possible thoughts of self-harm or harm to the newborn child.

Risk factors for developing postpartum depression can come from various sources, including hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, and environmental circumstances. By educating new parents on these risk factors, we can effectively work toward prevention and early intervention for those affected by PPD.

To better support new mothers experiencing postpartum depression, it is crucial to empower them with the necessary resources, tools, and a strong support network. In the final section of this article, we will explore how to find support and therapy with mental health professionals specializing in maternal mental health. The journey toward healing begins with acknowledging your symptoms and knowing that help is available.

Understanding Postpartum Depression (PPD)

Postpartum depression is a mental health condition experienced by some women after giving birth. While many new mothers experience mild “baby blues,” PPD is more severe and long-lasting. It’s characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, and difficulty bonding with the baby. Unlike the ordinary baby blues, which tend to subside within a few weeks, PPD symptoms can last for months or even years if left untreated. Some of the common symptoms of PPD include:

– Persistent sadness, anxiety, or mood swings

– Excessive crying or irritability

– Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

– Loss of interest in daily activities

– Loss of appetite or overeating

– Fear of being a bad mother

– Thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby

– Isolation from family and friends

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

There are several risk factors associated with postpartum depression, ranging from genetic and biological influences to environmental and situational stressors. Some of the most common risk factors include:

Hormonal Factors: During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant hormonal shifts, which can contribute to mood changes and the development of PPD. After birth, hormone levels can drop dramatically, exacerbating emotional imbalances and contributing to the onset of depression. Women who are sensitive to hormonal changes around their periods and experience Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder are more at risk of PPD.

History of Mental Health Issues: Women with a history of depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders may be at a higher risk for developing PPD. This may be due to genetic vulnerabilities or prior struggles in managing stress and emotional well-being.

Traumatic Birth Experience: Complicated pregnancies, birthing complications, or other adversities during childbirth can increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. These experiences can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or trauma, contributing to the onset of PPD.

Social Support: A lack of social support from family, friends, or partners during the postpartum period can heighten the risk of developing PPD. Emotional and practical support is crucial during this challenging time for new mothers.

Sleep Deprivation: The constant care required for newborns can lead to significant sleep deprivation, which can take a toll on mental health. Exhaustion can exacerbate feelings of irritability, sadness, and depression.

Biological Factors: Having multiple births, like twins or triplets and the likelihood of experiencing PPD increase for women under 20 years old. Research also shows links between biomarkers for inflammation, elevated stress hormones, like cortisol and thyroiditis.

Environmental Stresses: Having a baby with special needs (premature birth, medical complications) or that cries more than usual or is hard to comfort are risk factors. Financial stressors, family problems, death of a loved one also increases risk.

Finding Support and Seeking Therapy

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression is the first step toward seeking help. It’s crucial to reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in maternal mental health. Professionals specializing in this field have the unique expertise and understanding of the various challenges, emotions, and experiences commonly faced during the postpartum period.

  1. Talk to Your Healthcare Provider: Your obstetrician, midwife, or primary care doctor can be a valuable resource for addressing postpartum depression. They can ask you questions about your symptoms, provide a referral to a mental health professional, or offer additional support and resources.
  2. Reach Out to a Mental Health Professional: Working with a mental health professional specializing in maternal mental health can help you better understand your situation and develop an individualized treatment plan. This may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
  3. Connect with Support Groups: Many local and online support groups exist for women experiencing postpartum depression. These groups can offer a safe and supportive environment where you can share your experiences and learn from others who are facing similar challenges.
  4. Involve Your Partner and Loved Ones: Share your feelings and experiences with your partner, friends, and family members. They can provide emotional and practical support through your journey, and their understanding of your situation can make a significant difference in your recovery.

Managing Postpartum Depression through Self-Care

In addition to seeking professional support, it’s essential to practice self-care during the postpartum period. Prioritizing yourself and incorporating self-care strategies can help improve your mental well-being and manage postpartum depression symptoms.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations: It’s natural to feel overwhelmed during this phase. Recognize that it’s okay to ask for help and delegate tasks when needed. Try not to compare your experience with others or strive for unrealistic expectations of what you “should” be doing as a new mother.
  2. Rest and Sleep: While it may be challenging, prioritize rest and sleep when possible. Sleep is crucial for mental well-being, so find ways to take naps when the baby is sleeping or ask a loved one to help care for the baby while you rest.
  3. Engage in Physical Activity: Exercise has been shown to have benefits for mental health. Incorporate gentle exercises like walking, yoga, or stretching when you feel ready. Listen to your body and consult with your healthcare provider to ensure an appropriate exercise regimen.
  4. Eat a Balanced Diet: A healthy diet can help boost energy levels and improve overall mental health. Incorporate fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your daily meals. Avoid skipping meals and stay hydrated.
Dr. Sarah Allen

Dr. Sarah Allen has 25+ years of experience helping women to transition to being the mom they want to be. She is also the Director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of IL, a non-profit she started 20 years ago that offers information & support to pregnant & postpartum women and their families. She has also published research on postpartum depression and traumatic childbirth and presented at conferences.

If you would like to work with Sarah, please phone her at 847 791-7722 or on the form below.

If you would like to read more about me and my areas of specialty,  please visit Dr. Sarah Allen Bio. Dr. Allen’s professional license only allows her to work with clients who live in IL & FL & the UK and unfortunately does not allow her to give personalized advice via email to people who are not her clients. 

Dr. Allen sees clients in person in her Northbrook, IL office or remotely via video or phone.

    What Can I Read That Helps Me While I Am Waiting For My First Appointment With Sarah?

    If you feel that you may be experiencing pregnancy or postpartum mood disorder, or worry that you may be at risk of developing it, please download my free booklets below.

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    Warm & Knowledgeable.

    I highly recommend Dr. Allen! She is warm and so easy to talk to. She has lots of knowledge about women’s health.

    Kathryn Gardner, LCSW

    Excellent Therapist!

    Dr. Allen is a colleague of mine and she is an excellent therapist. She is warm, caring, and exceptional at her work. I refer clients to Dr. Allen and I highly recommend her if you are looking for a top notch therapist.

    Jodi Petchenik, LCSW

    Sarah Transformed Our Family’s Sleep and Sanity

    My baby didn’t sleep. She wouldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours at night and no more than 30 minutes during the day. I was completely overwhelmed and my husband and I were at each other’s throats. I was supposed to be going back to work but was barely functioning. Sarah helped us to learn how to get our baby sleeping and then she supported me in my transition back to work. She also helped my husband and I navigate how to share childcare and running the house fairly. She is a very knowledgeable therapist and has really helped us.

    Pam. L.

    Dr. Allen Helped Me to Feel More Empowered

    Dr. Allen has really helped me find my own voice. When I began therapy I would swing between being passive and doing whatever other people wanted me to do to being angry and frustrated. I have been on antidepressants for quite a few years but it wasn’t really working. Through therapy I have learned to listen to my own needs and to speak up. I used to worry that people wouldn’t like me if I didn’t agree with them but when Dr. Allen gave me the support I needed I challenged my fears. I spend a lot less time feeling angry and depressed now and I have really widened my social network. This is how I have always wanted to be but didn’t know how to get there. Dr. Allen has a very reassuring manner and makes you challenge yourself but by using small steps so you feel ready to do it. I have really come out of my shell and would recommend anyone who is feeling depressed to come and talk with her.

    Rebecca F.

    Trusted & Knowledgeable Therapist.

    When I need to refer any of my patients for talk therapy I immediately think of Dr. Allen as she is wonderful at helping people with severe and complex issues really get to the root of their problems. She is very caring and knowledgeable and I have found her extensive experience really helps people to change their lives for the better.

    Dr. Teresa Poprawski

    Dr. Allen is an expert in treating perinatal mood disorders.

    I refer as many patients as I can to Dr. Allen. She is an expert in treating perinatal mood disorders, and a well-trained and experienced therapist who is committed to working with her clients to develop a treatment plan designed for each individual. She exhibits genuine warmth, kindness and compassion for each of her clients. Dr. Allen has been a colleague of mine for more than 20 years, and I have great confidence when I refer patients to her.

    Leslie Lowell Stoutenburg

    I become empowered and a happier person.

    I began seeing Dr. Allen when my first child was around a year old. I had experienced a very traumatic birth, after a difficult pregnancy where I was on bed rest for a good portion of the time. The first year of my son’s life was spent worrying constantly. I also experienced flashbacks to the birth, which was an emergency C-section under general anesthesia. My son was in the NICU for several days following his birth, and I was not given very much information as to why. I remember thinking that he would die, or that something awful was going to happen.

    I experienced a great deal of anxiety that first year, and I thought that it was due to being a new mom. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating as normal, and I remember being worried about leaving the house or taking my baby with me anywhere. I worried constantly about illness, germs, etc.

    The first day that I saw Dr. Allen, she gave me some questionnaires to fill out before we started talking. Then we sat down and talked about my experiences with my son’s birth and the early days of his life, and the year or so since then. I remember to this day the relief that I felt when she looked at me and said that I had PPD and PTSD, which was a result of the trauma I experienced during and immediately after the birth of my son. She explained how my brain had reacted to the stress of these events, and related it to why I was feeling the way that I felt. It made so much sense. Then, she described ways that I could get over the trauma, work through the feelings, and recover from PTSD and PPD. I felt so empowered, and so happy that the way I felt had a name, and that it was treatable. It also made me feel so validated in the ways that I had felt and reacted following my son’s birth. I wasn’t going crazy. My reaction was normal and natural. And with the help of Dr. Allen, and the type of therapy that she uses, I knew I could recover.

    It is over five years since that first visit with Dr. Allen, and I still use the tools that she taught me today to deal with stress. I credit her with helping me to become a more empowered, happier person.


    Overcoming PPD with Dr. Sarah’s Support

    When I had my first baby I had what I now know was postpartum depression but I didn’t get any help. It did go away after about 18mths but it was a miserable way to begin motherhood.  When I was pregnant with my second child I started to become depressed again and this time told my OB/GYN how I was feeling and she referred me to Sarah. By starting to deal with how I felt and change the way I was handling the stresses in my life, I was in a much better place when my baby was born. The second time round my PPD was much less severe and didn’t last as long. 

    Sarah was also really helpful in teaching me ways to make the transition of becoming a big sister easier for my oldest one too.   My husband came with me for some sessions and that really helped our relationship and we started working on parenting issues together.  Sarah’s counsel and support really helped our family transition to the good place we are all in today.

    Sarah C.


    If you are thinking about getting counseling and you’d like to talk to someone about the things that are troubling you, I am happy to help.